99 Station Street

Melba Toast – A slice of history

 

Peaches

(c) Benutzer:burgkirsch

 

Just for the sake of clarity, yes, the above picture is a pile of peaches. Toast and peaches and sauce all make sense when you add the word Melba. Indeed Melba is the one and same reference in each, Dame Nellie Melba. She was a Victorian opera singer who was born in Australia. Much of her naming of dishes came about when she stayed or should we say practically lived in the Savoy in London.

During that time the head chef was a man called Escoffier. Auguste Escoffier is the man who is credited almost single handedly with the development of the modern kitchen brigade and the specialism of each chef within. His book Le Guide Culinaire is still revered as the serious chef’s bible. So Escoffier worked for a guy called Cesar Ritz, name sound familiar? Ritz at the time was the manager of the Savoy in London.

The story goes that Dame Melba became quite ill and Escoffier was tasked with making her something light. He came up with Melba toast which is now seen as a measure of how a chef has mastered the basics. Nowadays you would grill a round or two of sliced bread. Cut off the crusts and then slice across the soft centre to create two very thin slices. The raw side of the slice would now be grilled and err … voila, you have Melba Toast. Sliced bread was not commercially produced until 1928, this was 1897, so Escoffier had to do this process, carefully, by hand.

Such was the loyalty of people in those days that when Ritz was disgraced at the Savoy, he left and founded his own hotel empire. Escoffier followed behind him to become his new Head Chef. Finally, Dame Melba moved hotels too. Whatever the very thinly sliced toast may have originally been called in the great French tomes of cuisine, it is still today, Melba toast, named in Britain.